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Mother of crash victim questions 'justice you get in Florida' after Riccardo Rivas' probation terminated [Naples Daily News, Fla. :: ]
[June 21, 2014]

Mother of crash victim questions 'justice you get in Florida' after Riccardo Rivas' probation terminated [Naples Daily News, Fla. :: ]

(Naples Daily News (FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 21--The mother of Tracy Cate, killed in a 2009 crash caused by then-16-year-old Riccardo Rivas II, criticized a Collier judge's decision Friday to end Rivas' probation early Friday, saying it makes her question "what kind of justice you get in Florida." Nancy Jester, whose 32-year-old daughter was violently plowed into by Rivas at a North Naples intersection, said the judge agreeing to terminate Rivas' probation nearly three years early ran counter to the intention of his plea agreement. Rivas' agreement called for one year in jail and four years probation -- significantly less time behind bars than the 15-year maximum sentence he faced on a vehicular manslaughter charge.

"I was expecting him to do the year put away and come out and serve the full probation," Jester said when reached at her North Carolina home. "Had I known this would have went down, I would have fought (the plea agreement)." Rivas, 21, went before Collier Circuit Judge James Shenko asking to end his probation after three years and three months. His probation was extended from four to six years following two separate probation violations in late 2012, pushing the end date to January 2018. The violations were for possessing alcohol as a minor, urinating in public and violating curfew.

Shenko didn't give a detailed explanation for why he sided with Rivas, only saying he had "reviewed this tragic file from cover-to-cover" and noting he had handled Rivas' probation hearings in the past.

Tom Gorman III, Rivas' lawyer, said his client wants to attend college -- possibly Florida Atlantic University or Palm Beach State College -- but has been putting that on hold while on probation. Gorman said Rivas, who has been working as a phone sales operator in Delray Beach, has been told by school officials that he's less likely to gain admission while on probation.

Gorman added Rivas has been volunteering at a detoxification center and attending daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings following his probation violations.

"He does wish to move on with his life," Gorman said. "That is not to belittle or lessen the fact that this is a very serious case. Mr. Rivas knows that, and he will live with that every day of his life from this point forward." Assistant State Attorney James Stewart and Rivas' probation officer objected to the early termination, with Stewart calling it "very, very premature." Prosecutors in the past said they expected to lessen Rivas' restrictions as he neared the end of probation, but not as fast as Shenko allowed Friday.

Investigators said Rivas drove into the intersection of Pine Ridge Road and Whippoorwill Lane at about 70 mph, hitting seven vehicles and killing Cate, a single mother of two.

Rivas, who was 16 years old at the time, was charged as an adult. He's said he doesn't remember the moments leading up to the crash, and his defense lawyers have suggested he might have suffered a medical episode.

Jester said she approved of the plea agreement, but Friday's ruling came as a disappointment.

"I've forgiven him for what happened in my own mind," Jester said, "but when he broke that probation, they should have sent him back (to jail)." ___ (c)2014 the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.) Visit the Naples Daily News (Naples, Fla.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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